Ending on a high …

The scenery in the foothills of the Pyres as we left Spain, turning North at Pamplona was just lovely, very green and pastoral, with views of higher peaks in the distance. We arrived in St Jean de Luz, a lovely seaside resort in a protected cove on the Bay of Biscay, between San Sebastian and Biarritz, in heavy rain with some thunder for good measure.  Fortunately, the skies cleared enough for an enjoyable early evening ride along the promenade and through the narrow streets.  Our pitch at the camp-site looked right out over the sea; the breaking waves proved not to be the most soothing lullaby though!

to St. Jean de Luz
Back into France at St Jean-de-Luz

On Sunday we managed our longest bike ride of the trip, at just over 50 miles. The route took us up the coast and through the large, well to do, resort of Biarritz then along the banks of the river Adour to the pleasant town of Bayonne.  Turning inland, things got quite hilly through the most stunning countryside, filled with buttercup strewn meadows and wooded hills resplendent in every shade of green in the palette. New life abounded with gambolling lambs and goat kids, sturdy little calves, several foals and even a tiny baby donkey, all knock-kneed and wobbly aiming for its first feed from Mum. The scenery was very reminiscent of the Lake District fells – just lovely.

Bay of Biscay at Biarritz

With just the length of France to drive, a little under 600 miles, a two stage strategy was employed. Leaving early this morning, we arrived a few miles east of Nantes, to spend our last night of the trip a stone’s throw from the Loire River on a campsite next to a lake in the heart of yet another region famous for its wine.  Unlike the in the Rioja region of Spain, the vines here are definitely sprouting leaves. We arrived in time for an early evening 26 mile ride to the river, along its North bank and then back through lanes and a series of pretty little villages. We are well placed to complete the circa 200 miles to Roscoff in time to catch the 3pm sailing to Plymouth tomorrow.

So all in, once back in Kingskerswell on Tuesday evening we will have driven 3,200 miles, with the van a joy to drive and well up to the job; and after spending 41 nights in her confines we are still speaking to one another! In addition we will have cycled over 930 miles so have had an opportunity to explore as we went.  All in all it has been a thoroughly successful and enjoyable trip, with so much of Spain as yet unseen, we will definitely be back.

A Cross-country run and Adios Spain …

The historical city of Cádiz, launch point for Columbus’s search for the new world, like Gibraltar, sits on an isthmus jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.  With some 4,000 years of evidence, it is reported to be the longest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe.  The narrow cobbled streets, city walls and strategically placed forts are a living history book. We visited the city on foot via a 30 minute catamaran ride from the town of El Puerto de Sante Maria, a little further to the north on the mainland coast.

Map to Logrono

Our route back to France, as we head home, has taken us effectively North East through central Spain, giving the chance to observe ever changing scenery and agriculture. To the south, flatter lands grow very clean and healthy looking swathes of barley, in ear and just beginning to change from green to gold.  Potatoes and small sunflower plants also abound, and are clearly assisted by large scale irrigation systems. Further into the region of Extremadura, acres of trees (cherry and/or almond)? are a picture in full blossom. Much of the area we travelled between Merida and Segovia is mountainous moorland, sparsely grazed by small suckler herds with young calves at foot and liberally strewn with granite; very reminiscent of both Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The mountains around Segovia are very pretty, with the sun glistening off their snow covered peaks. It was about here we had to dig the long sleeves and socks out again!

894 metre long Roman Aqueduct – Segovia. 20,000 granite blocks – no mortar! 163 arches rising 28 metres at the highest point

Tonight will be our last night in Spain, in La Rioja region, home to the world famous wine. The vineyards cover the broad valley of the Ebre River, which we took much pleasure in cycling around today.  The vines, pruned and tied back to their training wires, currently look gnarled and dead. Closer inspection shows the promise of leaf buds, but it is hard to imagine that in a few short months they will be verdant with leaves and dripping with bunches of red grapes.

Gnarled vines in La Rioja


Aping about and Trafalgar …

The A7 Autopista (motorway) allowed us to give wide birth to Malagá, Marbella, Torremolinos, and Fuengirola, the go-to destinations for package holidays: not really our kind of thing, although the coast is lovely and the sunshine plentiful. We settled for the much more sedate and less developed town at Manilva, just a few miles down the coast, but a million miles away in terms of ambiance.

Route to Barbate
Left the Mediterranean Coast, heading North

A day ride into the hinterland was a joy, the terrain is much greener here and there are herds of splendid russet coloured cows (all with horns that would make great handlebars) and their calves grazing in flower strewn meadows; very pastoral. After several miles uphill we happened on Casares, another of the whitewashed, hilltop villages, for which the region is known. The views of the surrounding countryside and over the coast are superb, but the 1 in 3 cobbled streets did make us spare a thought for elderly and pram-pushing residents.  Supper in a small restaurant right on the undeveloped and deserted golden beach right next to the camp-site rounded off the day rather splendidly.

Yesterday we returned to Britain, well its Gibraltar outpost. It was fortuitous we parked Gloria, the camper van (ask Gavin) and cycled across the border. It is reported as the 5th most densely populated area on earth and clearly everyone has a car or moped, it was mayhem. Interestingly, the only road on and off the rock goes straight across the runway of Gibraltar Airport. Super-large railway crossing style barriers and flashing lights are employed when a plane is due to land or depart. We happened back just as the barriers had been lifted, it was pandemonium!

Barbary Macaques looking towards Spain from Gibraltar

It was quite odd to push our bikes down the main street past Marks and Spencer’s, Next, British Home Stores, English pubs, many referencing Lord Nelson or Trafalgar and old fashioned red telephone and post boxes. We followed the hordes and took the cable car to the top of the isthmus, to be greeted by the famous Barbary apes. Fortunately they were just as happy to look at us as we were them, so tales of bag snatching and bites were unfounded in our case. The long and steep walk down resulted in some very sore leg muscles the following morning.  The 7 mile circumnavigation of the rock, yes it is that small, just 2.6 square miles, allowed us to stop off at the southernmost tip, Europa Point where the towering hills of Morocco loom, just eight miles across the sea.  It is not hard to see why Gibraltar has been of such strategic importance over the years, being the gatekeeper to the Mediterranean.

The White Village of Casares

Our final few days on the coast before heading north are along Spain’s, relatively short, Atlantic coast, where surfers and kite borders delight in the rolling waves which crash on the beaches, in complete contrast to the gentle lapping on Mediterranean shores. The terrain is much greener and gentle here with more herds of red and black cattle, beautiful horses and farmed lands. Just along the coast from our wonderfully rural and well-appointed camp-site is the Trafalgar Lighthouse which stands close to the site of Admiral Nelson’s naval victory in 1805.

Batten Down the Hatches and Going Round the Bends …


A day for catching up with the correspondence, sitting here high above a valley full of splendid views, if only we could see them! Not only is the vista obscured by clouds and lashing rain, the windows of the van are all steamed up as we have had to bring the roof down for fear of being blown away. Still it’s good to be close to nature.

We managed to cycle into the town of Nerja this morning, arriving just as the rain began. Good job we had our rain proof jackets, though there were a couple of soggy bottoms by the time we got back to the van.

Castle at Almunécar

Such a contrast to the previous two days, the first of which was spent exploring the coast eastwards to the town of Almuňécar; a classic ride with well graded climbs followed by free-wheeling descents over a series of capes. With the sparking azure sea on one side and towering hills on the other, all was well with the world.  Yesterday’s ride has to rate as one of the best either of us has ever done. The forty seven mile circuit started easily enough, taking in sedate the promenades along the beach fronts of Nerja and Torrox. Then it got interesting with increasingly jaw-dropping panoramas as we climbed higher and higher up steep-sided valleys to the whitewashed town of Competá. The valley sides are dotted with grand villas and more humble dwellings, with seemingly impossible access, but the most spectacular aspects towards the sea.  Impressions of the Wild West are hard to ignore with striking, giant, Aloe Vera plants and prickly pears, resplendent with bright red fruits in such abundance. Competá clings to the hillside, with the sun reflecting off the heat repelling, uniformly white, façades. Negotiating the steep and winding streets is perhaps better suited to the nimble, cute mountain deer we have seen, than a middle aged couple pushing their bikes in search of sustenance.  The route back through a different, converging valley almost defies description. Slalom on bikes – constantly transferring weight to negotiate zig-zagging hairpins in the balmy breeze. We could get hooked on this cycling lark!

On the way to Competá

A proposed detour inland to Granada to visit the world renowned Alhambra (13-14th century Moorish palace-fortress) has been postponed to a future visit due to lack of preparation.  With bookable tickets being sold out four months in advance, it did not seem prudent to make the circa 200 mile round trip in the vague hope that we might get two of the daily allocations.

Our current camp-site and the one at Maro near to Nerja are in complete contrast to our expectations of the Costa Del Sol and its hinterland, being so quiet and with such unspoilt views – clearly not all sun-loungers and sangria.

We know the way to San José …

All of a sudden we seem to have hit red in the agricultural sense. The northern part of our journey was in the green foothills of the Pyrenees, followed by the amber glow of the orange groves that fill the lands from Barcelona to Valencia. Now, in the desert like climate and topography around Almeria the hinterland is filled with acres of tomatoes growing under vast synthetic greenhouses. Presumably this helps with moisture retention from the irrigation systems and protection from the sun and dust.  Further up this coast, salad and brassica crops are grown on industrial scale under polythene tunnels. From a distance, the sun shimmering on the plastic gives the impression of an enormous inland lake.

Gavin above San José & our journey so far

We are now on the Costa Calida, which translate as the ‘Hot Coast’ and it is not hard to see why, it was 27 degrees yesterday. It must be unbearable in the summer. Despite the balmy temperatures, and school holidays there are relatively few tourists here. This whole area is a Natural Park, which suggests that development is strictly controlled, resulting in unspoilt traditional fishing villages which put one in mind of Beer and Branscombe, only with more sunshine.

Yesterday we had a splendid ride out from our Campsite at the pretty seaside town of San José to the fishing and diving village of Las Negras, nestling under the surrounding hills in a secluded, shimmering, blue cove. On route, we explored the remnants of an abandoned gold mine, which although quite eerie, was been used as a film set. The old excavations revealed beautiful rock strata resplendent in ochre hues.

Smooth roads – Parque Natural Cabo de Gata-Nijar

It was quite a hilly ride, climbing over capes between the various little seaside villages. Some were perfect ‘dipper hills’ where, a bit of welly on the downhill section then peddle like fury until the gradient saps the momentum, sees you at the top before you can say Bob – so exhilarating.

In between leaving, Cartagena and arriving at San José, we spent Easter weekend inland in the village of EL Berro, set way up in the pine clad hills of the Parque Natural de Sierre Espuna.  There are fantastic remote walking trails, one of which proved that Gavin’s ankle is on the mend but still needs a bit more time/practice before hitting the South West Coast Path again. The scenery is stunning, and cycling up roads continually switching back on hairpin bends gives the chance for spectacular 360 degree views.

Moving On and Avoiding the Crowds

Route to Isla Plana
Hugging The Coast …

Finally some sunshine, following huge downpours over a twenty four hour period. We shouldn’t grumble though as this was the first significant rain for TWO YEARS in the orange groves clinging to the plains between the coast and inland hills. The oranges are magnificent, huge and so juicy. We paid just €3.00 (£2.25) for an enormous net full from an honesty stall on the roadside.

Some of the old hilltop towns are very picturesque, with narrow cobbled streets that have not changed for hundreds of years and, by their nature are pedestrian only, even bikes have to be pushed and sometimes carried.

Cobbled Street – Peniscola

We spent a couple of nights in a really quite campsite up in the hills, the scenery was magnificent, with towering mountains giving way to hundreds of acres of orange trees, either resplendent with a bounteous crop waiting to be picked or already pungent with delicate white blossoms for the next harvest. All of this leading down to the azure blue of the twinkling Mediterranean sea.

Given this tranquillity we bypassed the heaving mass of high rise apartments and urban sprawl that is Benidorm to another very quiet area just west of the strategic and much fought over naval port town at Cartagena. Our bike ride into this ancient old town from our campsite was one that Gavin terms ‘world class’ climbing over the pass between the hills along sweeping hairpin bends. The long slog uphill was well worth the resultant views and freewheeling down the other side. Cartagena has been fought over and changed hands since Phoenician times which makes it a fascinating place to visit. In the 1980’s the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre and Town Forum, including baths were discovered, with restoration works and further excavations continuing .

2,000 year old wall decoration – Roman Forum, Cartagena

Romans and Oranges …

The wonders of the internet mean that I was able to complete my self-employed job sitting in the camper-van, albeit late into a couple of nights and a very early start one morning. Good to keep some pennies coming in. Our trip into Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city was fascinating. Undertaken on foot and via an open-top bus tour with commentary in English; it is so much more interesting when you know what you are looking at!

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The legacies of the architect Antoni Gaudi dominate the city, with quirky houses and the, still unfinished, cathedral, La Salgrada Familia, which defies description with eighteen spires of 100 metres or more and the capacity to seat 13,000 people. Started over one hundred years ago, work continues; with funding reliant on the 2.8 million visitors annually and other donations. The heavens opened as dusk fell, rain of underwear-soaking proportions didn’t seem to dampen the (misplaced) optimism of the Arsenal fans in the city for the return leg of their Champion’s League match against the mighty home team.

Further south, the change in scenery was dramatic as we explored the Erbe river delta where irrigation channels criss-cross completely flat fields, freshly cultivated for the planting of rice, for which the region is renowned. The marshy wetlands and lagoons are home to a unique combination of plants and birds including very many flamingos.

As with much of Europe, the Romans have left their mark in many regions of Spain. In Torragona some of the city walls, chariot racing stadium, amphitheatre and other buildings are still standing some 2,300 years after they were built by these remarkable craftsmen.  It’s humbling to walk in the footsteps of circa seventy generations of humankind.

Roman Amphitheatre – Tarragona

Gavin has declared València, Spain’s third largest and our destination today, in the top five cities he has visited (and that’s a lot). With miles of bike paths, and flanked by long sandy beaches, the jewel in the crown is the green space and development along the former bed of the River Turia which was diverted to the outskirts to alleviate flooding.

For me one of the highlights of this region is the citrus groves. From a distance, yet to be harvested, oranges glow in the sunlight like baubles on a well decked Christmas tree.  They are so juicy and taste divine.

A Couple of Happy Campervaners!

Cannons and Pizza …

All good so far; we are managing to drive on the right side of the road (literally) and go around the roundabouts anti-clockwise. We are heading south down the spectacular Costa Brava coast towards Barcelona, which we intend to visit tomorrow, taking advantage of a free shuttlebus from our campsite, circa twenty miles north at Mataró.

Map to Barcelona.png

Leaving the van in a layby this morning, we had a world-class ride to the resort of Tossa de Mar. It was a classic with long swooping descents following twisting climbs as the road hugged the tortuous coast. The views were jaw-dropping but we were out-classed by the very many professional cycle teams who left us standing in their wake. (Well we are old enough to be their parents). Apparently many of the pro-teams have their headquarters and winter training camps in Girona, a few miles inland. Out of season, as it is, the resorts are really quiet and a delight to look around. The remains of the mediaeval castle and town at Tossa de Mar still has cannons pointing over the ramparts and quaint, twisty, streets cobbled with pebbles. The lovely, sandy beaches are empty. No doubt they will be wall to wall with bodies come the summer, just now long sleeves and coats are requisite.

Yesterday we cycled into Girona and mooched about the old town set on a hill above the River Ter. The Cathedral boasts the widest nave in the world bar St Peters in the Vatican and is well worth a visit to see the towering architecture and beautiful stained glass windows.

Cooking our evening meal with two gas rings, and a small oven with minimal kitchen equipment is proving interesting, but with necessity being the mother of invention, we have turned out some quite respectable repasts. Gavin is on cooking duty tonight, but a couple of pizzas and bag of salad from the supermarket should not test his skills too greatly.


And We’re Off to Sunny Spain …

A bumpy crossing from Plymouth to St. Malo was not conducive to a good night’s sleep in our bunk beds. So it was two weary travellers who negotiated 500, rain sodden, miles to Toulouse, mainly on the motorways, which are both smoother and less congested than in dear old England. Something to do with the toll system perhaps?

A restorative Wednesday night, in a camp site on the edge of Toulouse, saw us refreshed and able to take advantage of a dry day with a thirty mile bike ride along a section of the plane tree lined, Canal du Midi; which joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The return journey along the other side of the valley through rolling farmland and sleepy hamlets was all together more scenic though.

Thus exercised, we continued south east, past the magnificent ancient town at Carcassonne to the Mediterranean coast between Perpignan and Narbonne. Turning south, we then hugged the coast up into the tortuous Pyrenees mountains and over the border into Spain. The road had more bends than a snake on speed, and so took much longer to drive than anticipated, but the views!!

With some relief we pulled into a camp-site at the, delightful small town of Garriguella just as the light faded. So far we have managed to remain on good terms in our mobile chicken coop but are having to be very organised.

This morning we rode about ten miles into Figueres to visit the museum of the surrealist artist Savador Dali, for whom the town was both home and final resting place.  Not too sure we ‘got’ many of the pictures or sculptures, bit too surreal for our simple tastes. The ride there and back was mainly flat in the lee of the snow clad Pyrenean peaks in the distance but was challenging due to the howling wind which raged all the previous night and continues still.

Our billet for tonight is a utilitarian camp-site very close to the beach on the Costa Brava coast in the atmospheric town of Roses where grand houses cling to the hillsides seemingly defying gravity. There are lovely sandy beaches next to the sparkling waters of the Med. and a marina that currently houses a jaw-dropping array of luxury yachts.